(Removes reference to September in first paragraph)
By Yasmeen Abutaleb
WASHINGTON, June 27 Snack food sold in U.S.
schools must be lower in fat, salt and sugar, according to
federal rules released on Thursday aimed at giving students more
nutritious options and fighting childhood obesity.
In 2010, Congress passed legislation designed to improve
child nutrition. Schools have until July 1, 2014, to implement
the rules outlined on Thursday.
The regulations, originally due in 2011, largely mirror the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's February proposal that limited
the fat, salt and sugar content in school snacks and capped
School food administrators fretted about implementing the
changes, some groups said the rules were inadequate, and the
jury was still out among the target audience - children.
"I see a lot of my friends eating unhealthy lunches," said
Max Parsons, a 9-year-old elementary school student in Maryland.
"Some of my friends I know won't miss it, but I don't know about
Many U.S. children eat more than half of their daily
calories at school. The regulations will cover about 50 million
children attending more than 100,000 schools that are part of
the federal school lunch program.
The standards only apply to foods and beverages sold on
school campuses during the day, and limit vending machine snacks
to a maximum of 200 calories per item - less than many
regular-sized candy bars.
"It's supporting what moms and dads are doing all across the
United States," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a call
USDA gave the public 60 days to comment after it released
its proposals in February. The final guidelines, while mostly
unchanged, have incorporated a stricter calorie limit on drinks
in high schools.
Twelve-ounce drinks cannot exceed 60 calories, less than the
calorie count of most sodas.
And the portion sizes vary between age groups. Younger
students will be able to buy water, 100 percent juice, and
low-fat and fat-free milk in 8-ounce servings, while high school
students can also purchase 20-ounce calorie-free drinks.
Food sold at after-school activities, such as sporting
events, is not subject to the regulations.
A HISTORIC SHIFT
By improving the choices available to U.S. students outside
of breakfast and lunch, officials hope to make a dent in
childhood obesity in a nation where one-third of those under age
18 are considered overweight or obese.
Obesity is one reason some young adults cannot join the
military, so improving food options in schools will also
strengthen the nation's armed forces, said Lieutenant General
Norman Seip, a member of Mission: Readiness, a group of retired
All foods sold must meet competitive nutrient standards,
meaning they must have fruits, vegetables, dairy or protein in
them, or contain at least 10 percent of the daily value of
calcium, potassium, vitamin D or dietary fiber.
"This is an historic nutrition policy that will do a lot to
improve children's diets and address high rates of childhood
obesity," Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the
Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Reuters.
But Sandra Ford, head of the School Nutrition Association
which represents school food service workers in school districts
nationwide, said the "complex regulations" could burden schools
already working to offer healthier menus. Many schools are still
working to push though earlier regulations overhauling school
meals like breakfast and lunch.
Some parents, worried about snacks that undercut their
efforts to provide healthy options, said the snack rules were a
positive step, but more needs to be done.
Karen Devitt, co-founder of Real Food For Kids - Montgomery,
a Maryland-based advocacy group aimed at improving foods at
schools in Montgomery County, near Washington, D.C., said the
USDA effort allows sugary juices and does not address other
issues such as caffeine content and chemical additives.
"It's natural sugar, but it's not anywhere near eating a
real piece of fruit," Devitt, who has a school-age daughter,
The guidelines set a minimum standard for snacks, meaning
schools can implement stricter rules.
For Vilsack, improving children's food options is a personal
issue. He has spoken often of his own experiences as an
"You really can't concentrate and you cannot be the student
you were intended to be if you are worried about what people
think of you, so weight has always been an issue for me,"
Vilsack said in a speech in Portland, Maine in March.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Ros Krasny,
Stacey Joyce and Vicki Allen)